Mestre João Grande was born on Jan. 15, 1933 in the tiny village of Itagi in southern Bahia, on the outskirts of Ilheus. He is a highly respected figure in the world of capoeira and has received numerous awards. Among others, these awards include: the Ordem do Mérito Cultural which was presented to him by the former president of Brazil in 2015; the National Heritage Fellowship awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts – one of the most prestigious awards for practitioners of traditional arts in the US; and a Doctorate of Humane Letters from Upsala College in East Orange. Additionally, he has recorded numerous capoeira albums and has made an important contribution to the lexicon of original Capoeira Angola music.
Mestre João Grande first learned Capoeira Angola in Salvador, Bahia. He entered the Centro Esportivo de Capoeira Angola and studied with the great Mestre Pastinha as well as the notable Mestre Cobrinha Verde. Mestre Pastinha, who continues to be Mestre João Grande’s primary source of inspiration, opened the first Capoeira Angola School – the Academia De Capoeira Angola in 1941 in Salvador, Bahia. Mestre Pastinha dedicated his school to preserving and continuing the long tradition of the African martial art, teaching Capoeira Angola as a path of self-knowledge and mastery. Mestre Pastinha was the first Mestre to write a book on the history, philosophy, and practice of Capoeira, simply entitled ‘Capoeira Angola.’ He went to Africa with his students, including Mestre João Grande, in 1966 to participate in the Festival of African Arts and Culture and also produced musical recordings throughout his life.
In 1990, Mestre João Grande emigrated to the United States to establish his own academy. Over the past 27 years, he has worked tirelessly to maintain the core teachings of Capoeira Angola and offer its rich culture to people throughout the world. Over the years, Mestre João Grande has been involved with numerous film projects including: Mandinga em Manhattan; O Pulo do Gato; Capoeira Angola do Mundo; Sesame Street: Pastinha! Uma Vida Pela Capoeira; Besouro Preto; and the major Hollywood motion picture, The Interpreter.
While much beloved by his students at his academies in New York, Arizona, Bahia, Finland, Italy, Japan, California, Illinois, and Serbia, Mestre João Grande continues to be invited as a special guest at Capoeira events around the world, where he is treasured as both an icon of capoeira and a deep well of information on the traditions and creativity of Capoeira Angola.